Portuguese computer engineer is a finalist for the 2023 Young Inventors Award

About 90 million children and adolescents around the world live with some form of vision loss, according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

Teachers and parents of visually impaired children have a hard time finding educational tools and toys that they don’t have to adapt. The Portuguese engineer, Filipa de Sousa Rocha, invented a coding system based on physical objects that responds to this need, democratizing access to digital education.

Filipa is one of three finalists for the second edition of the Young Inventors Prize that the European Patent Office (EPO) created to inspire the next generation of inventors. The initiative recognizes young innovators aged 30 and under who have developed technological solutions to solve global problems and help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The inventor’s work on improving access to education contributes to SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 10: Reducing Inequalities.

Block-based coding is a programming language in which the programmer builds sequences of instructions by dragging and dropping pieces onto a monitor. Parts are decorated with 3D foam icons. These icons represent directional movements or speech functions used to command a robot’s behavior. Using these parts, visually impaired children can control the robot as if they were playing a drag-and-drop computer game. Filipa calls this invention ‘Block-based Accessible Tangible Programming Systems’ or BATS.

The BATS learning tool prototype took less than a year to create. It was tested remotely with five families of visually impaired children between the ages of 6 and 12 during the pandemic. With virtually no funding for the project, Filipa de Sousa Rocha relied on building relationships with schools, associations and families to bring her concept to life. These families suggested that more pieces be added to train other concepts, such as geography or mathematics. The work of the Portuguese inventor took significant steps towards making computational thinking accessible to everyone, especially visually impaired and blind children.

Filipa is a 27-year-old Portuguese computer engineer and researcher, with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in computer and information systems. She is currently doing a PhD in informatics at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon and works as a teaching assistant at Instituto Superior Técnico. The young inventor is sharing her passion for education, teaching digital literacy through gamification, bringing a smile to the faces of young learners as they acquire skills like computer programming.

“I think it’s very important that we create accessible and inclusive technologies for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. That means ensuring that the technology we develop can be used by people who are visually impaired or blind, for example, or by people with mobility problems. or dexterity,” he explained.

The winner of the Young Inventors Prize will be announced at the 2023 European Inventor Prize hybrid ceremony on 4 July 2023 in Valencia.

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